Book Reviews: Herbie’s Game by Timothy Hallinan and Dakota by Gwen Florio

Herbie's GameHerbie’s Game
A Junior Bender Mystery
Timothy Hallinan
Soho Crime, July 2014
ISBN: 978-1-6169-5429-1
Hardcover

In an Afterword to his newest book, the author discloses that he was asked by the publisher to write a 30,000-word Junior Bender novella, which started out being a tale of a burglary which netted our protagonist some interesting pieces of jewelry. Instead he ended up writing a novel three times as long in which those brooches merely serve as sort of end pieces to an entirely different theme. Junior, a kind of detective to the underworld, is retained by a mastermind criminal to find out who broke into his office and stole a piece of paper. And to recover that list.

The identity of the culprit is obvious to Junior, since he left his “calling card” by leaving everything open. So, Junior heads for his mentor’s home only to find Herbie Mott (who not only taught Junior everything he knows about his “profession,” but was a surrogate father as well) beaten and dead. It’s obvious his attackers were after that same piece of paper, which was a list of intermediaries who served to eventually pass along instructions to a hit man. Thus begins a long trek, as Junior follows the chain in an attempt to discover who was the intended target of the hit.

In reviewing the prior novel in the series, I pointed out that Junior was less amusing than he had been in the first two installments. Unfortunately, I felt that he was even less so in this, the fourth. While Herbie’s Game is a serious attempt to look at Junior more meaningfully, and we do gain a deeper insight into his personality and character, it is not the Junior we have come to love. Nevertheless, as it stands, it is a novel that keeps one’s interest, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2014.

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DakotaDakota
Gwen Florio
The Permanent Press, March 2014
ISBN: 978-1-57962-3362-3
Hardcover

Lola Wicks, introduced to readers in Montana, returns in the second entry in the series. In her mid-30’s, she is now working at a small daily newspaper in Magpie, Montana, a far cry from the years she spent as a foreign correspondent in Kabul and other war zones before being downsized from her job at a newspaper in Baltimore.

After three months, Lola is still dealing with the aftermath of the death of Mary Alice, her best friend, when first arriving in Magpie, “trying to figure out what to do with the rest of her life. At present, she is living with Sheriff Charlie Laurendeau in his small ranch just outside of town, problematical on two counts: For one thing, Charlie is half Blackfeet (and the town’s first Indian Sheriff), added to the unethical complication of sleeping with a source, since her assignment is to cover events on the Blackfeet reservation. This being just the start of winter, it is twenty degrees below zero when Lola arrives at a crime scene, where the body of a beautiful young Indian girl is found in the snow.

Lola, of course, and despite the fact that her frenemy, Jan, with the paper for 3 years, has the crime beat, feels compelled to investigate the death of the girl, Judith Calf Looking, who had probably frozen to death, especially when she discovers that she was just the first of a series of young girls who had gone missing from the reservation, many of whom had been drug abusers, over the last year, and only the first to have been seen since they had left. Her relationship with Charlie was a tenuous one, made only more so when Lola leaves Magpie for Burnt Creek, over the border in North Dakota, a town of 700 souls which had experienced a boom when fracking had taken over the area: people hoping to find jobs on the oil patch. Her only company on the trip is Bub, a three-legged hound with one brown eye and one blue, who had been Mary Alice’s before Lola took him in. The author captures the Indian culture as well as the brutality of the prairie, especially in winter, where Burnt Creek “made her look fondly upon Magpie’s ten-below, no-wind days . . .In Montana, the wind slammed snow against earth frozen hard as iron and then packed it tight enough to hold cattle on a surface so glazed and brittle that when the occasional steer broke through, it emerged with legs sliced and bloodied by the sharp edges.”

As was Montana, Dakota is a beautifully written, suspenseful and fast read, one I devoured in about 36 hours, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2014.

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